The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championship

With the Champions League and relegations spots close to being done and dusted, the most compelling matches this weekend in England will come from the Championship. In The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championshipthe Championship, Wolverhampton Wanderers have already clinched promotion to the Premier League. One point separates second place Cardiff City and third place Fulham who are battling for the second automatic promotion spot. Villa sit comfortably in fourth. However, behind them, there are a large set of teams who are all striving to reach the playoff in order to achieve promotion. Derby County, Middlesbrough, Millwall and Brentford are all in contention for the final two playoff spots. Two fixtures during a pivotal matchday 45 will feature two sets of teams battling each other for promotion.

Aston Villa vs Derby County

Aston Villa

Aston Villa enter this game comfortably in one the playoff spots. They are in fourth place and ten points clear of fifth-placed Middlesbrough. In good form, they enter the match with four wins in their last five. Villa’s run-in will prove crucial in the promotion battle as they play both sixth-placed Derby and seventh-placed Millwall. They do benefit from the fact that this fixture is home at Villa Park.

With a playoff spot already confirmed, Steve Bruce could easily decide to rest a good portion of their starting eleven here. If he does so, look for a squad full of heavy rotation and youth. It is incredibly important that Villa avoid injury before the playoff. Conor Hourihane, one of Villa’s key midfielders, might be rested here to help him regain fitness in. If so, expect Henri Lansbury to start in his place.

Villa do have a very outside shot at second if the results go their way. Thus, Bruce may choose to play their strongest starting eleven possible in order to keep the pressure on the teams above them. Lewis Grabban had a great performance in their 4-0 victory over Ipswich and could see himself in the starting eleven if Bruce elects to play his strongest team. Grabban is tied for second in goals scored in the Championship with nineteen.

The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championship

Grabban has been immense for Villa since being recalled from loan (Image: PA)

 

Derby County

Derby enter this fixture in very poor form with just three wins in their last fourteen. However, they did have a huge victory in their last match with a 3-1 win over second-placed Cardiff. Derby sit in sixth place currently. However, a loss in this fixture could lead to them fall to seventh. Thus, for the second match in a row, Derby have a huge task ahead of them. A win would be ideal for Derby however even a point would be an incredible result and keep them in the playoff race.

The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championship

Vydra leads the Championship in goals scored (Image: Andy Clarke)

Despite the fact that Derby’s squad is drained from their midweek fixture against Cardiff, expect Derby to make very few changes to their starting eleven. Manager, Gary Rowett, should set Derby up in their familiar 3-4-3 formation. Cameron Jerome scored two against Cardiff and should get the start again against Villa. Matěj Vydra also looked prolific in attack after coming on in the second half and should find himself in the starting eleven this week. He leads the Championship with twenty goals.  Finally, Andreas Weimann should start at left wing back as he provides width out left and is very capable of both going forward and defending.

Line-Ups

Aston Villa: Johnstone; Taylor, Jedinak, Chester, Bree; Bjarnason, Lansbury; Kodjia, Grealish, Adomah; Grabban

Derby County: Carson; Keogh, Davies, Forsyth; Wisdom, Huddlestone, Johnson, Weimann; Lawrence, Jerome, Vydra.

Prediction: Aston Villa 2-1 Derby County

Middlesbrough vs Millwall

Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough enter the game in decent form with three wins in their last five. This is a crucial game for Middlesbrough as they currently sit fifth in the table. With a win against Millwall, they will clinch their spot in the playoff.  However, a loss to Millwall would leave both teams equal on points, leading to a nervy final matchday for Middlesbrough. A draw would be a great result here for Middlesbrough as they would enter the final matchday three points clear of Millwall and with a far superior goal differential. Middlesbrough will also have the home support behind them for their final home game of the season.

The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championship

Traore will look to provide the creative spark going forward for Middlesbrough (Image: Richard Sellers/PA via AP)

Team-wise, Middlesbrough should start the same squad that beat Derby County 2-1 in their previous match. Adama Traore is tied for the most league assists in 2018 in any of the top four tiers of England. His creative presence will be integral to Middlesbrough’s attack. The only real difficulty for Middlesbrough’s manager, Tony Pulis, will be who to start up top. Britt Assombalonga started as striker against Derby and scored Middlesbrough’s second goal. That goal was his team-leading fourteenth in the Championship. On the other hand, Patrick Bamford is arguably better up top. He has 10 goals in the Championship and only lost his starting role earlier because of injury. However, form means everything for a striker and Assombalonga is in great form and should lead the line for the home side.

Millwall

Before their 3-0 loss to Fulham in their previous match, Millwall had gone seventeen matches unbeaten. This fixture is the final kickoff on Saturday so Millwall will know where they stand relative to the rest of the league when the game kicks off. They could start as high as seventh or as low as tenth, knowing they need a victory to stay in the race for promotion. Millwall are great away from home with their last loss away in the league coming on January 2. Millwall also won the reverse fixture over Middlesbrough 2-1.

The race for promotion hits its final stretch with two crucial matches in the EFL Championship

Neil Harris has had his team in fantastic form in 2018 (Image: Getty)

Look for Millwall to start with their typical 4-4-2 formation that has worked so well for them throughout their unbeaten stretch. Neil Harris, the longest-serving manager in the Championship, should set his team up to hit Middlesbrough on the counter. He has been very faithful to his first choice eleven throughout this season so it would be very surprising to see him make any changes to the squad he featured against Fulham. If he does make any changes, look for him to rest midfielder George Saville. Saville has looked somewhat passive during Millwall’s past few matches and may require a rest. However, with only two matches left, resting anyone would be a bold move.

Line-Ups

Middlesbrough: Randolph; Friend, Gibson, Ayala, Shotton; Besic, Clayton, Howson; Downing, Assombalonga, Traoré

Millwall: Archer; Meredith, Cooper, Hutchinson, Romeo; Marshall, Williams, Saville, Wallace; Morison, Gregory

Prediction Middlesbrough 1-1 Millwall

Featured image by Getty Images Europe

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Game 7

Playoff teams most likely to win a Game 7

“The two best words in sports,” is the cliche often used to describe a Game 7.

A winner-take-all game is always exciting. Whether it is in the first round of the playoffs, or for the championship. Whether a person considers themselves a casual or rabid sports fan, it always feels like must-watch TV. A moment that will allow you to say “I was there when…”

With the NBA playoffs heating up, and the games getting more and more important as teams climb the ladder towards the NBA Finals, it is time to take a look at the teams most likely to win those games.

Here are the teams with the rosters most suited to win a Game 7, if a series should come down to it.

Golden State Warriors

Saying the Warriors can win one game is a little like saying that the sky is blue. But for sake of the argument, let’s look at their credentials.

As the dynasty has taken shape, the Warriors have only had to play two seven game series. Back to back, no less. Both series were infamous in their own ways.

The first was in the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder, before Kevin Durant switched sides. The second was the NBA Finals, as the best regular season team of all time fell to LeBron and the Cavaliers in Game 7.

The difference here is the aforementioned Kevin Durant acquisition. The Cavaliers proved to be too much for the Warriors in Oakland in 2016, but Golden State “only” had two prolific scorers back then, not three.

Game 7

Draymond Green drives to the hoop against Manu Ginobili during Tuesday’s Game 5 win. (Photo by Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

Stephen Curry is slated for a return in the second round, assuming the Warriors finish off San Antonio. With him, Durant, Thompson, Green and their fantastic bench, it is going to take a fantastic team to take them to seven games, let alone win the series.

It seems as if the Warriors and the Rockets are on a collision course for Western Conference dominance. If that happens, then a potential Game 7 would take place in Houston, as the Rockets had the best record in the NBA. Against any other team, a Game 7 would be in Oakland.

Golden State, though, had the same record at home and on the road during the regular season, at 29-12. Obviously, the Warriors would like to play in front of their own fans, but a road game does not necessarily put the team at a disadvantage.

The Warriors can beat any given team, and have. With a fully healthy squad and the multitudes of playoff experience, betting against them in a winner-take-all game might be a fool’s errand.

Houston Rockets

Speaking of the Rockets, it is hard to deny that their offensive capabilities can overtake any team on any given night.

There is one obvious and pressing question facing Houston, however. Can they shrug off the idea that they are chokers, or that they lay down when the playoffs roll around?

Game 7

Paul and Harden celebrate during a game against the Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images)

This is clearly a different Rockets team than we have seen in the past. The efficiency and shooting is off the charts, and they play legitimate defense. Chris Paul and James Harden have ditched their ball-hogging ways in favor of pacing and rhythm. Their three point shooting is historic, but does not hamstring their mid-range or low-post games.

The problem, though, is that if a team is going to commit to the jump shot, then they have to fall to stand a chance. Any and every team can go cold on a given night, and it will be especially memorable and demoralizing if that happens in a Game 7.

Houston’s home record is three games better than their road record (34-7 versus 31-10). That is good news, considering they will probably have home court advantage, regardless of their opponent.

The key to winning a Game 7 for Houston is to bury the opposing team early. As the Timberwolves have been well aware during their series with the Rockets, no lead is a comfortable one. When almost every player on the floor can score in bunches, problems arise for opposing defenses.

Riding their shooting abilities and continuing to play their brand of fast-paced basketball on both ends on the floor is their bread and butter. If the Rockets find themselves in a Game 7 situation, their opposing team will be preaching that every other statistic and record is irrelevant, and that anything can happen in a one game series.

That should not be Houston’s approach. The Rockets would need to go into that game remembering that they are the number one overall seed for a reason.

Toronto Raptors

Toronto is also on a quest to shake off some preconceived notions about their playoff performances. For the first time in franchise playoff history, the Raptors won a Game 1. So far, so good, but this team still has some proving of itself to do.

Not unlike the Rockets, the Raptors also seem to be different this year than in years past. In 2016, they lost in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals. In 2017, they were swept in the second round. Both series losses were to the Cavaliers, as they made their way to the NBA Finals.

Since 1996, the Raptors have played just two seven game series. The most recent was in 2016, as they beat the Pacers in Game 7 to earn their first-ever trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Game 7

DeRozan hangs on the rim after a dunk. (Photo by Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

This is a much, different team, though. DeRozan and Lowry are a dangerous backcourt duo when they are both on, and the role players have never been this good. Between those two and Valanciunas, Ibaka, and one of the most productive benches in the NBA, it seems as if Toronto can take on any team in the league at their best.

Coach Dwane Casey has balanced star power with fundamentals as well as any coach in the league, including Steve Kerr. Toronto rode that game plan to the East’s best record, and a chance to disprove doubters once and for all.

Toronto is much better at home than on the road. Considering they are the East’s number one seed, that should work out just fine. Unless they face a Game 7 matchup if they are able to reach the NBA Finals. At 25-16, their road record is a full nine games worse than their home record. Considering the Raptors’ rabid fanbase, that is not very surprising.

Much has been made of Lowry’s postseason struggles, and DeRozan’s feast or famine performances. But the fantastic bench and great defense can mask those issues in a single game. Sometimes, bench performance can be the difference in those games. Although, stars playing to their fullest potential is always the goal.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Here, it would probably be sufficient to write the words “LeBron James” and be done with it. But, while he is the heart and soul of the team, he is not the only player on the floor.

Cleveland’s struggles this year have largely been the focal point of the entire season. At the end of the day, though, this team can win close games.

Game 7

James embraces Love after their Game 7 NBA Finals win. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

J.R. Smith is a spotty shooter. Kevin Love essentially disappears if the team does not feed him the ball enough. Nance, Jr., Hood, and Green are all good complimentary pieces, but tend to shrivel under the spotlight. At any point, though, everyone just mentioned could play second fiddle to LeBron’s heroics. If they are all on, then teams are going to have a hard time figuring out what to do with the Cavaliers.

Lest we forget, the LeBron-led Cavs dethroned the Warriors in that historic Game 7. James also won a Game 7 against the Spurs in 2013. He is, without much argument, the best player in the world, and he can take over games at will.

Nothing would will James to a victory like a championship-or-bust one game series.

Tyronn Lue and the Cavs have beaten the best regular season team in NBA history in a Game 7. And while this iteration is much different, and not without its glaring issues, if the Cavaliers find themselves in this position again, it is hard to bet against The King.

Featured image by Ravell Call/Deseret News

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“From Our Haus to Yours

Non-star difference makers

LeBron James. Kevin Durant. James Harden. These are all names that most households around the world are familiar with or, if not, have at least heard once or twice. They are the best players on their respective teams, and their teams have legitimate shots at a championship partially due to their excellence and presence on the court.

But if you took any of these players and all the supporting cast out of the equation, none of these guys could win a single game one-on-five, no matter how good they are. Everyone on the basketball court needs help in one way or another, and often times these supporting cast players appear to make the studs better. Here we will talk about the non-stars who are making a difference so far this postseason and how they could possibly lead their contending team to a championship.

Photo source: www.fivethirtyeight.com

JaVale McGee

After averaging less than 10 minutes per game and not even five points or three rebounds in his limited playing time, JaVale McGee has come alive in the playoffs as the Warriors starting center. He propelled them to an early lead in Game 1 against the Spurs and was solid in Game 2 as well. His two-game playoff averages are currently at 12.5ppg on 71 percent shooting, 5.5rpg, 1.5s, and 1.5b in just 17.5 minutes.

These per-minute numbers are just phenomenal and could get more minutes if 1) he didn’t make simple mistakes and 2) fewer teams went small against the Warriors.  He is a great defensive presence and has helped the Warriors in a great way so far in this series.  If Zaza comes back, I think Javale deserves the starting role and most of the minutes at the five regardless of his return.  Finals MVP?

Clint Capela

Sticking with the theme of important centers, Clint Capela was huge in the Rockets’ Game 1 win over the Timberwolves, racking up 24 points, 10 boards, a steal and three blocks in the dominant performance. Chris Paul and James Harden both said great things about him after the game, calling him dominant and describing his energy as “contagious”.

One of the most important takeaways from this is that he did it against Karl-Anthony Towns, who is a fairly decent basketball player.  He truly held his own and outscored the starting All-Star center by 16 points, which speaks wonders. Harden and Paul’s elite passing abilities do make Capela’s offensive job a bit easier, but he takes all credit for his tough defense.  We’ll see what kind of game he and Towns have in Game 2.

Photo source: www.raptorshq.com

Delon Wright

This is a very non-household name, but Wright leads the way on the best bench in the entire league. The Toronto Raptors have a couple stars, a few other solid starters, and the rest of them are just very consistent contributors off the bench. Wright and other bench guys like Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl, C.J. Miles, and Pascal Siakam have all been a great part of Toronto’s first-seed berth this season.

Wright has averaged 14.5 points in two games so far in these playoffs, helping the team go up 2-0 on the Wizards. While the points are important, the defense he brings to the table is something else, already averaging three steals and a block and a half in his two playoff games.  Wright and the rest of the bench have a great chance of assisting in taking the Raptors far in this race for the championship, and I think they could surprise some people.

Terry Rozier

Ever since Kyrie Irving went down, Terry Rozier has been fantastic for the Celtics, especially in these playoffs. Once again, this is not necessarily a household name for most NBA fans. Heck, not even his current opponent Eric Bledsoe knows who he is. When asked how personally he takes the matchup with Rozier, Bledsoe said: “I don’t even know who the f— that is”.  Granted, this was not the nicest thing Bledsoe could have said after the loss, but Charles Barkley said it best:  Rozier is the guy who is “kickin’ yo ass”.

Excuse the profanity, but Chuck isn’t wrong here. Rozier has led Boston to a 2-0 lead over Giannis and Milwaukee behind averages of 23.0ppg on 47 percent from the floor, 3.5rpg, 5.5apg, and 1.0spg. He has defied all expectations, and while he is no Kyrie Irving, he should be huge for this team’s playoff run. Bledsoe, meanwhile, is sitting at just 10.5ppg on 36 percent shooting, 5.5rpg, 4.0apg and not much else. To add to the embarrassment, Bledsoe is averaging three turnovers per game, while Rozier hasn’t committed a single one this series.

Conclusion

There is plenty of media and talk about the studs that carry their respective team and have great nights consistently, but some guys truly don’t get enough credit. Despite not even hearing about some of these names in an average basketball-related conversation, their opponents have heard plenty about them, and are vital to the success of their respective teams.  A lead role is nothing without his supporting cast members, and some of the support these stars have been getting has exceeded all expectations for fans and teammates alike.

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Philadelphia Eagles

Four reasons the Philadelphia Eagles will repeat as Super Bowl champions in 2019

After an amazing season capped off by the Philadelphia Eagles first-ever Super Bowl title, what more is there to look forward to for Eagles fans? Well how about hoisting the Lombardi again in the 2018-2019 season? Winning back-to-back Super Bowls in the NFL is incredibly hard to pull off. In fact, it has only happened eight times in the history of the Super Bowl era NFL. Most recently it was the New England Patriots when they won Super Bowl XXXVIII and XXXIX (38 and 39).

However, with minimal changes to last years championship team, the Eagles are set up to win it all again. Not just because I think it is going to happen, but because they are a young team that should only improve in coming years and especially because of these four reasons.

The defensive line is the best in the NFL

Howie Roseman, General Manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, has invested a ton of capital into the defensive line in Philly and it has paid off in spades. With all due respect to those great defensive lines in Los Angeles and Houston, the Eagles have the best defensive line in football. The amount of pressure that they put on the quarterback to make quick reads and get rid of the ball is what makes the whole defense work. The best part is that they only got better this offseason.

Philadelphia Eagles

Derek Barnett recovers the game changing fumble forced by Brandon Graham. Photo by AP

Vinny Curry is gone after being released to save cap room, but the presence of Micheal Bennett should more than make up for his absence. Curry had only three sacks last season. Michael Bennett was credited with eight and a half sacks. Now clearly eight and a half is better than three but his impact goes beyond even that. On obvious passing downs Bennett possesses the ability to slide inside which allows the Eagles to put all their best pass rushers on the field at once. What quarterback is not going to be scared by a lineup of Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett and Derek Barnett?

I haven’t even mentioned defensive end Chris Long and pass rushing defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan who have been stellar in their own rights. In addition to all that, Derek Barnett is bound to progress in year two after a very promising year one in which he recovered the game-changing fumble in Super Bowl 52.

Carson Wentz will be back on the team that just won a superbowl without him

Four reasons the Philadelphia Eagles can win the Super Bowl again

Carson Wentz throwing a pass. Photo by Clem Murray.

Nick Foles was great in the playoffs, there is no disputing that. However, adding Carson Wentz back into the mix gives the Eagles an added dimension in their offense. As well as some creativity after the play breaks down that is some of the best in the league. Before Wentz went down with an ACL injury last season, he was leading the MVP race, and even though he missed three games, he still threw the second most touchdowns last season with 33. To make that even more impressive he only threw seven interceptions. Wentz might be a little rusty his first couple games back but he will be back to MVP form in no time.

 

 

The offensive line is the best in the NFL

The Eagles finished last season rated as the best offensive line in football according to Pro Football Focus. Right guard Brandon Brooks did not allow a single sack all season. Heading into last offseason, Jason Kelce was considered a potential cap casualty because many were worried his play was declining. He bounced back with a vengence, having a career year and finishing as Pro Football Focus’ highest graded center. All of this without happened nine-time pro bowl left tackle Jason Peters, who was lost for the season with a torn ACL and MCL. Pretty impressive.

 

Doug Pederson has shown himself to be a wonderful play caller

Winning a Super Bowl is hard enough, winning a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback is insane. Much of the credit for the Eagles’ victories after the Wentz injury should go to Head Coach Doug Pederson. He was able to change his offense on the fly and make it suitable for a very different quarterback in extraordinary fashion. The way he implemented run-pass options into his offense among other things that Foles was comfortable with, is what won them the Super Bowl. Nick Foles is not a bad quarterback, but he certainly is not as talented as Carson Wentz. Yet, after some modification, the Eagles offense ran just as smoothly with Foles under center.

 

All in all, actually winning the Super Bowl is much easier said than done. However, at this point, the Philadelphia Eagles have to be considered the favorite to win the Lombardi again in Super Bowl LIII.

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NBA Western Conference Playoffs

Why each Western Conference team can and can’t win the NBA Finals

It truly is the “Wild Wild West” when it comes to the hunt for the NBA Finals.

We are only six days from the start of the playoffs, and seeding is anything but concrete. Every team, with the exception of the top two, could potentially end up anywhere. The third-seeded Trailblazers and the Nuggets, the first team out, are only four games apart.

Regardless of seeding, however, every team that makes the playoffs has the same goal: becoming NBA champions.

Knowing that the seedings can, and probably will change over the remaining two to four games for each potential playoff contender, it is time to take a look at what can propel them towards or keep them from winning the Larry O’Brien trophy.

No. 9 seed (first team out) – Denver Nuggets

While the Nuggets may be on the outside looking in for now, it is worth mentioning that they would safely be a playoff team if they were in the East.

Alas, they are not, and Denver is fighting for its playoff life with every game.

The Nuggets young core of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic are electric, and can be good for a very long time. Their positioning in some of the most important basketball stats is eye-opening.

Denver is sixth in points per game, seventh in rebounds per game (thanks to their fantastic length and speed) and fifth in assists per game. This makes them a scary matchup if they do claw their way into the postseason. Being able to score, rebound and share the ball consistently will make it hard for any team to dig its way out of an early hole, if they find themselves in one.

The youth and athleticism will also wear opposing teams out in a seven-game series. The Nuggets love to turn the transition game into a track meet after a steal, but also excel in post-up situations if it is called for, thanks to Jokic’s talents.

For all of these reasons, and the fact that some higher-seeded teams could overlook Denver due to their late season struggles, they could surprise the NBA all the way to the finals. Once the finals roll around, anything can happen, especially if a plucky eight seed manages to punch their ticket.

What will keep them from achieving those dreams, however, is their lackluster defense. With a defense good for 24th in the NBA, that probably will not translate well to the playoffs. As impressive as a sixth-ranked points per game offense is, it does not mean much if Denver cannot stop the best teams in the league from scoring.

The Nuggets certainly cannot go shot-for-shot with the Rockets or the Warriors, and the inability to overpower these teams defensively could spell an early exit.

No. 8 seed – Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves’ season has been a bit of a roller coaster. At times, they have seemed like not only locks for a playoff spot, but true contenders. At others, they have massively underachieved, falling to legitimately bad teams.

Surprisingly for a team coached by Tom Thibodeau, the offense has been the strength for Minnesota. They are ranked seventh in points per game and leaning heavily on the bona fide stardom of Karl-Anthony Towns.

Towns can score inside, outside and distribute the ball well. Jamal Crawford has seemingly tapped into the fountain of youth to become an important part of the team. Before his injury, Jimmy Butler was averaging the most minutes per game in the NBA, and backing up that playing time with some fantastic numbers.

NBA Western Conference Playoffs

Karl-Anthony Towns will have to keep up his dominant performance if the Wolves hope to win a title. (Photo by Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports)

Their star power is where their title hopes live and die. The Wolves are well-coached, and they have the ability to take over any game at most any moment. If Butler gets his pre-injury step back, then his iso scoring ability will be too much for almost anyone guarding him. Odds are, opposing teams will have to create a mismatch elsewhere on the court to stop him, which the Timberwolves can and will take advantage of. If they can find a way to make that work over multiple series, then there is no reason Minnesota cannot take everyone by surprise and walk home with the title.

Again, this Thibodeau team surprisingly goes heavily against the mold previously casted by his other teams. Normally known for their shutdown defense, this Thibodeau team is flat-out average defensively. Barely outside the bottom 10 in terms of defensive ranking, mediocre defense is not something to get excited about in the playoffs.

In a case of strengths also being weaknesses, pure star power alone cannot get the job done for an average rebounding and defensive team. Add the fact that their bench ranks dead last in court minutes and offensive production, and leaning on Butler and Towns at (hopefully) full strength will be Minnesota’s option.

The Wolves can absolutely get out of the first round if they do not have to see the Rockets, but even that would require immense luck and unbelievable game planning. Sustaining a playoff run on two players and no bench does not make a true finals contender.

No. 7 seed – Oklahoma City Thunder

If it has been said once, it has been said a thousand times: The “OK3” have the ability to take over any game.

However, the Thunder have been underwhelming this season. It is hard to come up with a legitimate argument for why Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony could not figure it out and combine for 70-plus points on any given night. While Melo has lost a step and struggles to move without the ball, he can still fill it up. George’s defense has overshadowed his offense, which is impressive. And Westbrook is Westbrook, no explanation needed.

This team was not built for an 82-game season, it was built for the playoffs. It is important to remember that none of their big three have won a title, and they would all love nothing more than to check off that particular box. With Adams as a reliable rebounder and scorer in the paint, the Thunder even have a bail-out option if George and Anthony’s floor spacing is not working well and Westbrook’s lane to the hoop are clogged.

Their ability to win a title rests solely on their potential. It has been a potential that NBA fans have not seen. But again, this team screams, “NBA Finals contenders” on paper. With good game plans by Scott Brooks, they can absolutely reach that peak if it all finally comes together in the playoffs.

Similar to the Timberwolves’ problem, though, the Thunder’s bench is bad. Oklahoma City will absolutely have to ride the three big names through the playoffs. If we see more of what we have seen over the regular season in the playoffs, then a disappointing end to the season is inevitable.

Their defense is 10th in the league, mostly thanks to George and Westbrook’s ball-stealing abilities. Oklahoma City will be rolling the dice to see if they can rob enough possessions to win games. Many teams they might play throughout the playoffs will be teams that play fast and are not too worried about turnovers because of their scoring ability. Those steals will have to turn into points, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

No. 6 seed – San Antonio Spurs

Two words sum up the reason the Spurs can win the 2018 NBA Finals: Gregg Popovich.

That is an oversimplification, but it is not necessarily completely untrue. Popovich has never had less to work with as the Spurs streak of 50-win seasons will be coming to a close after 18 seasons.

With a 40-year-old Manu Ginobili, a Tony Parker that just cannot do what he used to and no Tim Duncan, the Spurs sit at the sixth seed. This without even mentioning the never-ending Kawhi Leonard saga that has plagued the team.

NBA Western Conference Playoffs

It looks like Greg Popovich and the Spurs will be advancing to the playoffs for 21 straight seasons. (Photo by Jim Cowsert/Associated Press)

The defense is some of the best in the league, and the 3-point percentage is excellent due to disciplined shot selection. Popovich can outcoach almost anyone in the league with just about any roster. That kind of thing is a huge difference maker in the playoffs. The Spurs do not need to win every game, just four out of seven. That is more than doable. With their winning culture and fantastic pedigree, if the Spurs reach the finals, it would be hard to truly see them as underdogs.

The age here is huge though. The team is old, and the young players are inexperienced. Their biggest playoff x-factor would be LaMarcus Aldridge, and teams have been able to shut him down in the past.

The Spurs were swept last year in the conference finals without Leonard. While it seems as if they have found an identity without him this year, it is going to be hard to make a meaningful finals run without the two-way superstar. Teams simply are not scared of the Spurs this year, and intimidation was a big part of their game.

San Antonio will have no choice but to overachieve if they want to win it all.

No. 5 seed – New Orleans Pelicans

Speaking of overachieving, the Pelicans are doing a whole lot with very little.

After DeMarcus Cousins went down with an achilles injury, most NBA fans left the Pelicans for dead. But Anthony Davis has put the team on his unibrow and taken the team to new heights. Averaging 28.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, with multiple 50-point games mixed in, the identity of this team is clear. The Pelicans want to give Davis the ball and figure it out from there.

New Orleans has fantastic shooting stats, stemming from their ability to pass up good shots for great ones. Their 3-point percentage ranks in the top half of the league, but they do not take very many, which lends itself well to high percentages. The defense is also good. The balance of this team spells hope for a run to the NBA Finals.

But Davis alone will not be enough to carry them to the finals, let alone win them. All an opposing team has to do is find a way to take him out of the game. This is no easy task, but these will be the best teams in the NBA the Pelicans will be playing against.

The fundamental basketball is sound, but pairing it with the run-and-gun offenses they will be facing will surely overpower New Orleans. If the Pelicans still had Cousins, this would be a completely different story. But as the team stands now, they might have the least chance to win the Finals, regardless of their fifth seed.

No. 4 seed – Utah Jazz

The defensive prowess of this team is their strongest suit. The defense of the Jazz alone can get them out of the first round.

With a scoring threat led by rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell and the improved shooting stroke of Ricky Rubio, Utah is a scary matchup. Coupled with their late season push, this team is coming together at the right time.

NBA Western Conference Playoffs

Rookie of the Year candidate Donovan Mitchell has been a driving force in Utah’s playoff push. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images)

The passing and ball movement is fantastic. They have a great inside-out game, and they will be counting on teams underestimating them once the playoffs roll around. It was not too long ago that the Jazz were on the outside looking in. Now in the fourth spot in the West, they have legitimized themselves and are forcing teams to take them seriously.

The core might just be too young to make a deep run though. Leaning on defense is a tough sell when matching them up against the Rockets or the Warriors. Teams with their jump-shooting abilities thrive on finding the holes and exploiting them constantly.

Regardless of where they sit when the playoffs begin, the first-round matchup featuring the Jazz will be must-watch basketball for any NBA fan. This could be the beginning of something special, even if they do not have the juice to win it all.

No. 3 seed – Portland Trail Blazers

CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard combine for one of the best backcourts in the game right now. The emergence of Jusuf Nurkic as a rock-solid post player has given the team a great option down low. The bench is fantastic and the wing players are some of the best three-and-D men in the NBA

One could accuse the Trail Blazers of playing above their ceiling, but that is a hard argument to sustain given their records against the other best teams in the league. The defense is also playing nice, making Portland a complete team.

Being fourth in rebounds per game also guarantees them enough possessions to get their shooters going, which is essential in their offense. Portland can shoot themselves out of almost any kind of deficit they find themselves in. That kind of pedigree can win a title in any era.

However, playoff basketball is about adjusting when other teams take away their strengths.

The Trail Blazers are dead last in assists per game. It has not hurt them too much in the regular season, but if opposing defenses can take away their iso scoring game, then they are going to try to force the ball into tight spaces, resulting in turnovers.

Selfish basketball can win a team their division, or even their conference, but it does not lend itself well to winning a playoff series or a title. Portland will have no choice but to work to break themselves of that identity and find ways to move off the ball if they want to make it out of the Western Conference.

No. 2 seed – Golden State Warriors

The only thing more well-documented than Golden State’s struggles in the 2017-18 season is their dominance over the past three years.

Banged up, reeling and playing uncharacteristically down to their opponents’ level, the Warriors have let their death grip on the West slide. But this does not spell disaster for Golden State.

Until further notice, they are still the reigning Western Conference champions with a great coaching staff and four All-Stars in their starting five. It looks like the Warriors should be at full strength by the second round of the playoffs.

NBA Western Conference Playoffs

The Warriors might have to play the first round of the playoffs without All-Star Stephen Curry. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

If Stephen Curry comes back at full strength and Kevin Durant continues the current tear he is on, then the Warriors are still the scariest team in the West. Much like the Spurs, Golden State is coasting on reputation until they have to back it up once the playoffs start.

This roster, including a great bench, can own any team at a moment’s notice, no questions asked. They also know their opponents well enough to expose any weaknesses at any position. No one in the NBA community is going to be surprised if they represent the Western Conference for a fourth straight year. The Rockets will probably be their toughest test, so if they do make it to the NBA Finals, expect the dynasty to be official and unequivocal.

However, Houston is the tallest of orders for this team right now. Golden State has made it known that they are vulnerable. Again, the banged up roster could be a problem for the team. Sharing the ball is key to the Warriors’ success, and without shooters like Curry, an extra pass could lead to a turnover. It could also lead to missed shots, which is more of a problem this year than it has been in previous years.

This is because their defense has gone downhill in the worst kind of way. As far as points allowed goes, Golden State is 17th in the league.

Giving opposing teams confidence is the very last thing the Warriors want to do. Golden State thrives on putting their boot on teams’ necks early and applying pressure with a barrage of made shots.

They are not done until they are done, but the playoffs will undoubtedly be more of a test this year than they have been. And the NBA is all the better for it.

No. 1 seed – Houston Rockets

The offensive juggernaut that is the Rockets has earned the top spot through some amazing play. They deserve the home-court advantage and then some.

They are second in points per game, first in 3-pointers made, and their defense ranks in the top 10 in terms of points allowed. The Chris Paul and James Harden experiment has paid off handsomely, and the bench is rallying around the exciting brand of basketball that Houston plays night in and night out.

Even if the defense was truly awful, it would not matter due to the Rockets’ 3-point shooting abilities. Clint Capela also collects enough offensive rebounds to solidify himself as a legitimate playoff threat.

This team can dethrone the Warriors. They have beaten them in the regular season, even when the Warriors were at full strength. If Paul, Harden and Capela are on the floor, the Rockets cannot seem to lose. If they do make the finals over Golden State, go ahead and place your bets, because they can run away with it.

The only real problem with this team is their reliance on jump shooting. For Houston to thrive, shots have to fall. Any NBA fan knows that teams have nights where the ball just does not go in the basket. It is hard to believe that the Rockets would fall victim to enough of those games to remove them from title contention, but it is entirely possible.

If the Rockets can get the Warrior-sized monkey off of their backs and shake their reputation of fizzling out in the playoffs, the NBA Finals may very well be theirs to lose.

 

Featured image by Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours

G2 and Fnatic face each other for the first time in the finals for 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

The top six storylines for EU finals that are not “Old Kings versus New Kings”

Fnatic and G2 are poised to take the stage this Sunday for the 2018 Spring Split EU LCS Finals. Fans and analysts anxiously await the showdown. Fnatic ended the regular season 14-4, and they defeated Team Vitality in the playoff semifinals last weekend. G2 move into the finals after defeating Splyce in the semifinals and ending the regular season 12-7. The regular season first and second place teams will meet in the finals to truly crown 2018’s Spring champion.

Both G2 and Fnatic have storied legacies moving into the last playoff stage in Copenhagen. As an organization, Fnatic covers the entire positive record books of the EU LCS. They have the most championships (five), the best season records, and the longest winning streaks of all time. This is Fnatic’s seventh final in 11 splits of LCS. Internationally, Fnatic has won the World Championship, and finished top four two other times.

However, since most of their dominance occurred in 2015 and earlier, Fnatic is painted as the “Old Kings of Europe.” The English organization’s legacy mostly exists in the past. Listening to long-time Fnatic fans revel in their past victories sounds like ancient esports legend. Almost all of the individuals that brought Fnatic success in the past are long gone and never coming back.

G2 Esports, on the other hand, are considered the “New Kings of Europe.” Since they entered the EU LCS in 2016, G2 has finished every split in first place. The Spanish organization has dominated Europe for the last two years, taking down four different finals opponents in the process. G2 has four gold trophies of its own, and has qualified for Worlds two years in a row as Europe’s top seed.

This “Old Kings versus New Kings” narrative is pushed by the LCS Broadcast every time these two teams face off. G2 and Fnatic battled in Group A all last year, and, regardless of either team’s form, the casters slated the match-up as “Old Kings versus New Kings of Europe.” The analysts and casters will most likely rehash this storyline in the 2018 Spring finals, but here are six alternatives for anyone finding the “Old Kings versus New Kings” idea worn out.

G2’s fifth straight EU LCS Final

G2 enter the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split finals for their fifth straight time

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

G2 Esports has attended the finals for every split they have been in EU LCS, despite significant roster changes. The organization entered the LCS in 2016 with Kikis, Trick, Perkz, Emperor and Hybrid on the roster, and YoungBuck as coach. They finished first in the regular season and went on to defeat Origen in the finals. That summer, G2 brought on Zven and Mithy in the bottom lane, and eventually started Expect over Kikis. Again, they finished first in the regular season and took down Splyce for the finals victory.

This same roster continued maintained their dominion over the EU LCS for all of 2017. They topped Group A in Spring and Summer Split, then took down Unicorns of Love and Misfits in the finals. G2 Esports has won four splits straight, the first team in Europe or North America ever to do so. This level of consistency at the top of the league is unprecedented.

Coming into 2018, G2 changed almost every member of its roster. Expect, Trick, Zven, and Mithy parted ways with the organization, while Wunder, Jankos, Hjarnan, and Wadid joined. YoungBuck switched teams, so G2 brought on GrabbZ from last year’s ROCCAT. Perkz is the only remaining member of the original LCS roster from 2016, yet they still made it to the finals for the fifth straight split. This finals presents an opportunity for G2 and Perkz to build on their legacies by winning a fifth EU LCS title. A victory would extend their win streak to five splits straight, two more than the next best title streak (Fnatic’s Spring 2013, Summer 2013, Spring 2014).

Fnatic’s first finals in two years

Fnatic enters the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split finals for their first finals in two years

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Despite being the most successful organization in the EU LCS, Fnatic has not made finals in the past four splits. G2 played spoiler in Spring 2016 (3-1 in semifinals) and Spring 2017 (3-1 in semifinals), while H2K knocked them out in Summer 2016 (3-0 in quarterfinals) and Misfits in Summer 2017 (3-1 in semifinals). Fnatic has finished playoffs third place in three of the last four splits.

Just making the EU LCS finals is a huge step in righting Fnatic’s ship for the future. Every third place or lower finish tarnishes Fnatic’s reputation for long-time EU fans, while setting tarnished standards for newcomers to esports. A win this weekend would push Fnatic back into the spotlight as a dominant organization in Europe. But, more importantly, Fnatic will need to continue making the finals for splits to come.

First time G2 and Fnatic face each other in The finals

G2 and Fnatic face each other for the first time in the finals for 2018 EU LCS Spring Split

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Although G2 and Fnatic have met a few times in past playoffs, this is their first chance to fight in the finals. If G2 win, then they extend their legacy of winning every LCS split since entering the league in 2016. They also tie Fnatic for the most total EU LCS championships won. If Fnatic win, then they add an extra title to their name, bringing their total championships to six. G2 would remain second with four.

This Spring Split finals will set the narrative between these two teams for Summer Split and onward. Their rivalry meets its nexus here. If G2 pulls out a win, then Fnatic will be viewed as the team that failed. They will become the underdogs moving into Summer Split, and their “most championships” record will become tainted, since G2 will also have five trophies. If Fnatic wins, then they will solidify their spot as the single best EU LCS organization ever. Fnatic would break G2’s win streak, which will bring them down a peg as the current apex predator, and reinforce Fnatic’s off-season roster decisions.

Jankos’ first EU LCS finals

Jankos enters his first EU LCS finals ever in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split playoffs

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Despite playing in the league since Spring 2014, Jankos has never appeared in the finals. While on H2K, he placed fourth twice, third once, and fifth-sixth once. Jankos played for ROCCAT prior to H2K, and they placed third once, fourth once, and fifth-sixth once. Just like Pr0lly with 100 Thieves in the NA LCS, this weekend will be Jankos’ first time on stage for a title.

Simply getting this deep in the EU playoffs should be vindication for Jankos’ move to G2. However, a win would be important for proving Jankos is one of the top European junglers of all time. Diamondprox, Cyanide, and others have LCS titles under their belts. While Jankos has consistently carried his teams towards the top of the pack, without a first place finish most fans will discount his individual strength.

several players’ first finals (second most ever)

Broxah enters his first finals in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split playoffs

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

This will be the first playoffs finals for Bwipo, Broxah, Caps, Jankos, Hjarnan and Wadid. This year’s six players ties with Summer 2016 and Summer 2013 for second most finals debuts ever. Only 2015 Summer had more (9 new players). While this fact is not extremely important, spreading the competitive experience across more players is almost always better for the league ecosystem. When these individuals switch teams, return to finals, or compete internationally, analysts will reflect on the results of this Spring Split finals and weigh each players’ contributions. This championship would be especially valuable for the younger Fnatic players.

Continued dominance for youngbuck, redemption for dylan falco

YoungBuck, Dylan Falco, and GrabbZ all have something on the line for the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split finals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Besides the organizations and the players, all of the coaches in the finals have something on the line, as well. Youngbuck coached G2 over the past two years, racking up four championships for himself. For this Spring Split final, the tables have turned, and Youngbuck will support Fnatic in ending G2’s title streak, while extending his own. His coaching record is far superior to any other coach Europe has seen.

Dylan Falco, Fnatic’s other coach, hopes to reach a new height with Fnatic this year. While Dylan coached Immortals in the NA LCS in 2016 they finished playoffs in third place both splits. Immortals was unable to translate their regular season dominance into playoffs, dropping out in semifinals. When Dylan moved to Team Envy, the team finished in tenth place and faced the Promotion Tournament. Finally, he moved to Fnatic in the EU LCS, where he finished third in the 2017 Summer Split playoffs again, despite Fnatic’s regular season dominance. Moving into the finals, similar to Jankos, is such a crucial step for Dylan, and winning would be so gratifying.

Finally, GrabbZ enters his first finals ever. Since he has only previously coached for ROCCAT, GrabbZ should be proud to bring a rebuilt G2 roster all the way to the Spring Split finals. A win here gives a solid jump-start to his coaching career, and would play spoiler to YoungBuck and Dylan’s above-mentioned hopes.

Tune in this Sunday, April 8, to watch these teams, organizations, players, and coaches put everything on the line. Their legacies, their records, and their stories will be built off of the results of this final best-of-five. Only one team can walk away with the win. With it, they will get the glory, and everything that comes with it. All of these storylines coalesce in the 2018 Spring Split finals, which goes much deeper than “Old Kings versus New Kings.”

credits

Featured Image: LoL Esports Flickr

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finals

Why each Eastern Conference team can and can’t win the NBA Finals

The NBA Finals have seen the same two teams duke it out for supremacy three years in a row. With legitimate threats to both reigning conference champions on both sides, the landscape of the playoffs already seems different.

Every playoff team has the same goal entering spring basketball, the legitimacy of each team’s claim to the throne has to be weighed because they all do have a shot at the title, however long or short it may seem.

Here are the reasons each Eastern Conference team can and cannot win the 2018 NBA Finals.

No. 8 Seed – Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee has a young core centered around Giannis Antetokounmpo that has the ability to take teams by surprise. Their offense relies heavily on slashing to the basket, which translates to an extremely high field goal percentage.

Antetokounmpo is a certified superstar in the making, and he has the ability to put the team on his back if the jump shots aren’t falling. The other side of that particular coin involves the shooting talent around him being able to bail him out if he is, somehow, guarded successfully.

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Antetokounmpo is the focal point of Milwaukee’s offense and title contention hopes. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/AFP Photo)

What will hold them back from title aspirations is their defense. For every impressive offensive stat, there is a disappointing defensive one.

Their opponents are shooting almost 47 percent from the floor, and 37.1 percent from three-point range. Couple that with the lack of bench depth and inexperience, and the playoffs will be a tough hill to climb.

No. 7 Seed – Washington Wizards

The Wizards are perennial playoff contenders with a very talented roster. John Wall and Bradley Beal make up an impressive backcourt combination, and Marcin Gortat has the rebounding and put back abilities to make things interesting. The wing players, while prone to underachieving, also have high ceilings when they play well.

They are well-coached by Scott Brooks and, hopefully, entering the playoffs at full strength. The Wizards could be a dark horse betting candidates to make a deep playoff run. With enough confidence and momentum behind them, it is not out of the realm of possibility for Washington to compete for a title.

There has been turmoil in the locker room, however. John Wall is just now returning to basketball activities, so the Wizards’ best player will have significant rust to shake off.

That is not a good thing, considering they have to shoot themselves out of deficits more often than they would like. This is due to the same kinds of issues that Milwaukee has had to deal with. Impressive offense is only impressive if a team can keep themselves above water defensively.

No. 6 Seed – Miami Heat

Erik Spoelstra is proving four straight trips to the NBA Finals had more to do with him than NBA fans like to think. Many attribute those accolades solely to having James, Wade and Bosh leading the way.

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Erik Spoelstra and Goran Dragic are big reasons the Heat are back in the playoffs. (Photo by Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

This young team, though is rising above expectations sooner than expected. Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo are an excellent frontcourt tandem. The Heat are finding their identity in the paint and riding the shooting of Wayne Ellington and experience of Dwayne Wade back to a playoff berth. Spoelstra has clearly found out the right way to utilize these talents.

Young teams can give more experienced teams fits in the playoffs with their athleticism and timing. Miami also has the third-highest scoring bench in the league at 39.6 points per game. Add that to Spoelstra’s overachieving, and they could be a team to watch out for in the relatively weak Eastern Conference. Like the Wizards, the Heat can ride momentum all the way to finals contention.

Shy of Ellington, though, shooters are hard to come by in Miami. They rely on a post-heavy offense, which doesn’t necessarily hold up as well in a seven-game series as it does in an 82-game season.

Their defense is good, sporting the fifth-best opponents’ field goal percentage in the league. But they will be playing against some of the best and most dedicated jump-shooting teams in the league. If their looks start falling, that spells doom for Miami.

No. 5 Seed – Indiana Pacers

Victor Oladipo will undoubtedly win Most Improved Player this year, after showing the league what he’s made of after the Thunder traded him away in the Paul George deal. His points per game average this year is up six points. He is also collecting more assists and rebounds than he ever has.

Oladipo is the secret sauce to a Pacers finals run. He and Myles Turner have put Indiana on their backs this year, and few have been able to contain both of them at the same time. If teams do manage a strategy to keep them both in check, they will have to do it over a series of games, which is no easy task. If these two players can keep digging into their bags, then the Pacers are a team no one would truly want to face.

Again, though, the problem here is lackluster defense. At 18th in the NBA in opponents’ field goal percentage, the Pacers simply let their opponents score too much. Their three-point shooting abilities are good, but almost all of the teams above them in the standings are in the Eastern Conference.

The bench does not give the Pacers many minutes, at less than 17 per game. They are in the bottom five in that category and the bottom ten in bench scoring. So Oladipo and Turner truly have to carry the team if they want to be playing in June.

There is simply too much that can go wrong to call them a true NBA Finals contender. But given Indiana’s identity over the course of the season, that is probably exactly how they like it.

No. 4 Seed – Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers have taken the NBA by surprise this season. A trip to the NBA Finals would cap off “The Process” and prove the brutal teardown and rebuild to be worth it.

Philadelphia is inundated with youth. Ben Simmons is one of two potential Rookie of the Year candidates and continues to dish out triple-doubles. Markelle Fultz is, surprisingly, playing this season, and if he can figure out his shot, it only creates another weapon. Robert Covington and J.J. Reddick are veteran leaders that seem to be drawing off the energy of the young core.

And then there is Joel Embiid.

While currently out due to surgery on an orbital fracture, he has been giving teams trouble all season. Both on and off the court. The trash talk is already legendary, and he has the play to back it up. Embiid averages a double-double at 22.9 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. We have even seen him step outside the arc when the opportunity presents itself.

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Embiid could miss some playoff games after undergoing surgery for an orbital fracture. (Photo by Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

If he can get back in time for a second-round series, this team could legitimately take over. They have been too much for opponents all season, and there is no reason to think that will stop when the playoffs start.

The young squad will be fired up and eager to prove themselves. With their inside-out offense and some of the best defense in the league, they are a legitimate title contender, because they match up well with any team. Including and especially the two favored to be in the Western Conference Finals.

Ironically, though, their biggest strength is also their biggest weakness.

Youth means inexperience. Inexperience means being able to be taken advantage of. Meeting a veteran team like the Cavaliers, who know what it is like to play for and win a title, could be their undoing.

It cannot go without being said that the cockiness of this team is some of the most outspoken in recent memory. Philadelphia knows it is good, which might create a glare that makes them look past other opponents.

Either way, “The Process” will officially undergo its first test on April 14.

No. 3 Seed – Cleveland Cavaliers

The rollercoaster that has been the Cavs’ regular season is finally coming to an end.

After blowing up their roster before the All-Star break, the Cavaliers are sitting pretty as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. As we know, seeding is little more than a formality, as far as LeBron James is concerned.

The new-look Cavs are more youthful, better defensively, and seem less complacent than the pre-trades roster. Their NBA Finals hopes are renewed again after finally finding a formula that works after a multitude of injuries and locker room finger-pointing.

Do not kid yourself, though. The Cavaliers are coasting on reputation more than anything. They have been in the past three NBA Finals, thanks in large part to having the best player in the world on their team. They are the (wine and) gold standard of the Eastern Conference until further notice.

Intimidation will play a factor here, and so will their offense that can adjust to any opponent. Lue’s offense works in such a way that it, if a team’s defense takes something away, the Cavs can simply move on to another facet of their game with just as much success.

With Nance Jr. and LeBron James holding down the paint, and shooters to stretch the floor, defense still will not matter much to Cleveland, as they can go point-for-point with the very best teams out there, even on dysfunctional nights.

This particular Cavaliers iteration, though, is still relatively new. Jordan Clarkson has not quite figured it all out, and George Hill is showing his age next to the ageless wonder, LeBron James.

The problem, also, with playing no defense, is that shots do have to fall. Sure, the Cavaliers can make them, but as everyone knows, sometimes the ball just does not go in. If Cleveland has a couple of bad shooting nights, they will get blown out due to lack of defensive commitment.

Unlike the past three years, Cleveland has to prove themselves and play to their highest level to reach the NBA Finals. Then, after three hard-fought series wins, they will have to face the best of the other conference.

No easy task.

No. 2 Seed – Boston Celtics

Boston has the best coach in the NBA. That is enough of a reason why they can win the Larry O’Brien trophy, but let us explore some more anyway.

Brad Stevens has the ability to make something out of nothing. The Celtics, right now, are a team with unbelievably bad injury luck at the worst time, and they are still winning.

That is due to the incredible bench play and next-man-up strategy that the Celtics employ. Their offense is weak, but their defense is the best in the league. The system is flawless, and almost every team in the league would fall victim to it at least once in a seven-game series.

Owning an opponents’ field goal percentage under 44 percent is no joke. Boston ranks tenth-best in turnover ratio, and the rebounding is just as impressive. Surprisingly, even though their offense can be a bit anemic, they are second best in three-point percentage at 37.9 percent.

It defies logic, but even without Irving, Brown, Smart and Hayward, this team has steadfastly held the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. And they are only going to get healthier from here. If anyone can beat Golden State at its own defensive game, or hold the fast-paced Rockets offense in check, it is the Celtics.

They can, and just might win the whole thing.

But before one gets too high on Stevens’ ability to will his team to victory, it is important to remember that their returning players will, like Wall, have severe rust to shake off.

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The Celtics could be without Irving for the first round of the playoffs. (Photo by Brian Babineau/Getty Images)

Irving is coming off of a knee surgery, and his game hinges on his quick legs, handles, and iso scoring ability. That will not be easy to return to during his first minutes on the floor. Smart cannot return until May if Boston is still playing. And there is no telling who might go down in the meantime, with the Celtics’ luck as of late.

The key to a title for Boston is its defense. So, if a team can somehow figure out how to get the better of it for four games, then it is a wrap for this team. They do not have the firepower necessary to go shot-for-shot with some of the offensively-minded teams in the NBA like the Cavaliers can.

No. 1 Seed – Toronto Raptors

Toronto owns a top-five offense and a top-five defense. They have the probable coach of the year, in Dwane Casey. They have DeRozan, who is only getting better. Lowry and Ibaka are still reliable, and they have the deepest bench in the entire NBA.

Opposing teams have to pick their poison with the Raptors, and even then, still might not get what they chose. They can beat you with their smothering team defense, or their ability to match points on the outside or the inside.

Toronto owns the best record in the East for a reason. They also own a massive home court advantage, and as the locked-in, one seed will keep it throughout the playoffs. This more driven and focused Raptors team will be a legitimate force in the playoffs, and it is almost assured that a number two or three seeded teams will have to be the ones to take them out if they do not reach the finals.

As far as winning it all goes, this might the only team that can beat the Houston Rockets by locking down their shooters. The communication on the floor is excellent, and the Rockets only go as their three-point shooting does. The Raptors perimeter defense not only can win them the title but can do it in less than seven games.

Unlike Cleveland, however, Toronto’s reputation is working heavily against them.

The Raptors have fizzled out in various rounds of the playoffs for years, and they will need to get that monkey off of their backs, both with their play and with their overall mental position. Toronto has, perhaps, more to prove than any other Eastern Conference team in the playoffs, regardless of owning the top seed.

They will still have to earn any respect they feel they deserve, which will either fuel them to a title or be what burns them yet again.

 

Check back here on Saturday for the reasons each Western Conference team can and cannot win the NBA Finals! 

Featured image courtesy of NBA.com

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“From Our Haus to Yours

Fnatic will face G2 in the 2018 EU LCS Spring Split finals

EU playoffs update: Semifinals review and finals preview

The EU LCS moved into the playoff semifinals this past weekend, with Europe’s quarterfinal winners stepping up to the plate. Splyce met G2 after defeating ROCCAT 3-0 in quarterfinals, while Vitality had beaten H2K 3-2 to face Fnatic in semifinals. Check out last week’s article to get the setup for quarterfinals and semifinals.

G2 v. SPY

G2 defeated Splyce in the 2018 Spring Split semifinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Splyce came into Friday’s match as the slight underdog, as they lost the second place slot in a tiebreaker with G2 at the end of the season. That being said, four of Splyce’s members won All-Pro honors, while only three from G2 were recognized. Splyce also dominated ROCCAT just last week, which made their match-up versus G2 even more exciting.

Their first game kicked off with Perkz giving First Blood to Xerxe’s Trundle in the mid lane. Jankos and the rest of G2 responded with a successful top lane gank and a pair of Ocean Drakes. He then turned to bottom lane for a dive, but KaSing’s Janna ultimate and Odoamne’s Sion Teleport nullified Jankos’ attempt, which turned into a death for Wadid and G2’s bottom turret. Over the next several minutes, Splyce and G2 traded rotations to take all outer turrets until G2 won a mid lane fight and took Baron. Using the pushing pressure, G2 accrued a 7,000 gold lead, but when G2 took their second Baron, Splyce traded for Elder Drake and was able to win every fight from there. They took G2’s Nexus in 42 minutes, still over 5,000 gold behind.

Game two was relatively quiet for the first 15 minutes. G2 was able to sustain enough lane pressure to allow Jankos space to take two Infernal Drakes. Wunder showcased the power of Swain, gaining around 40 CS over Odoamne and pushing down both solo lane turrets. G2 more-or-less forced their will onto Splyce for the rest of the game, sometimes a bit overzealous. Hjarnan’s Jhin and Jankos’ Skarner were able to engage onto Splyce at will, which allowed G2 to easily siege. Securing a Baron at 25 minutes was the straw that broke Splyce’s camel’s back, as G2 successfully kited any counter-engage from Odoamne’s Sion or Xerxe’s Sejuani. G2 ended the game almost 10,000 gold ahead by 34 minutes.

G2 gained the early lead in game three, by surviving a massive bottom lane gank from Splyce. They came out of it with two kills and bottom lane turret for just Wadid’s death. G2 also outplayed Splyce when they contested Rift Herald, but Odoamne, Xerxe, and Nisqy took mid lane turret in exchange. By 20 minutes, Splyce and G2 took all six outer turrets. They danced around the first Baron on even terms, but G2 secured it and a kill, which cracked open a 5,000 gold lead. After a surprise pick on Perkz’s Zoe, Splyce turned to secure Baron. Kobbe secured the objective, but G2 forced the fight and Hjarnan’s Jhin cleaned up a Quadra Kill. G2 pushed the series to match point.

Splyce and G2 remained even through the first 20 minutes of game four. However, G2 outplayed Splyce once more in a large top lane fight to take the lead. Odoamne’s Camille teleported in with KaSing’s Shen ult on him, but Wunder’s Fiora teleported in reply. Hjarnan and Wadid beat Kobbe to the lane, which resulted in a three for one for G2. Splyce pressured Baron just after 20 minutes, which resulted in a pick, but G2 staved them off of the objectives. Minutes later, Splyce sent three members bottom to kill Wunder, but G2 secured the Baron in response. In a desperation play, Splyce turned to pressure Baron again, at 33 minutes, but G2 took the fight, took the Baron, took the Elder Drake, and took the series. Hjarnan went 19-2-22 over the four games.

FNC v. VIT

Fnatic defeated Vitality in the 2018 EU LCS Semifinals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

Analysts were not sure what to make of Vitality versus Fnatic coming into the match-up. Fnatic were clearly the most dominant team in Europe, but Vitality had been their biggest rival during the regular season. Most expected the early game to revolve around Caps and Jiizuke in the mid lane, while Rekkles would be Fnatic’s late game ace up their sleeve. On top of that, Bwipo would substitute for SoaZ, due to an injury. The series could theoretically go many ways.

Fnatic drafted a powerful poke composition for game one, including Nidalee, Zoe, and Ezreal. Most of Fnatic’s pressure was on mid lane, as Broxah pulled off three successful ganks on Jiizuke pre-13 minutes. Although Vitality got a couple of picks on Hylissang’s Tahm Kench, Fnatic secured a 4,000 gold lead by 16:30. Caps’ Zoe roamed several times to nuke down Gilius and Minitroupax, while Fnatic also took first turret and a Mountain Drake. Fnatic took an uncontested Baron just after 20 minutes, and they finished in less than 26 minutes.

Game two saw Fnatic take a level one jungle invade, which ended as a one for one. Vitality ruled the early game this time around, as Gilius’ Skarner pulled off successful ganks top and mid. Fnatic also got outplayed in an early skirmish in their top-side jungle, giving Vitality a 2,000 gold lead around 10 minutes. Hylissang’s Braum made an aggressive play in the mid lane to shut down Jiizuke’s Taliyah and Gilius, which helped even out the game. Fnatic continued to pick up kills by punishing Vitality’s aggression towards Bwipo’s Gangplank in the side lane, gaining their own 3,000 gold lead by 20 minutes. The rest of the game was the Fnatic show, as Vitality only got one kill for the rest of the 30-minute game–no more turrets or neutral objectives.

Vitality got their first win in the third game. Gilius’ Olaf and Jiizuke’s Taliyah focused on the top side and Cabochard’s Camille pick, roaming and ganking Bwipo’s Cho’Gath twice in the first 10 minutes. With so much pressure, Cabochard was able to open up the map, taking several turrets, but Fnatic rotated as a team to match. They evened out the gold around 20 minutes, aggressively outplaying Vitality with Rekkles’ Ezreal and Caps’ Swain. Vitality pushed Fnatic off of a 20-minute Baron and took it for themselves. Fnatic returned to Baron around 29 minutes, but Gilius stole it and Cabochard and Jiizuke’s split push knocked down Fnatic’s Nexus turrets. With the next siege, Vitality closed game three.

Fnatic won out the early skirmishes of game four, mostly centered around Caps’ Swain. By 11 minutes, he was 3-0-2 with 100 percent kill participation. Vitality were active in finding picks on Bwipo’s Gangplank and shutting down Caps, but Fnatic always traded for turrets. Fnatic won the first big fight in the mid lane around 19 minutes, and they snowballed from there. Vitality contested Fnatic’s every move, but Broxah’s Trundle and Hylissang’s Braum permanently slowed their opponents, easily allowing Rekkles and Caps to secure kills. Fnatic took a Baron at 15 minutes without losing any members, and the following siege ended the game in 30 minutes. Vitality lost the series 1-3, qualifying Fnatic for their first finals in two years.

G2 v. FNC

G2 will face Fnatic in the 2018 EU LCS Finals

Image from LoL Esports Flickr

The classic “Old Kings versus New Kings” showdown will happen this weekend for the EU LCS Spring Split title. Of the 10 total LCS championships, Fnatic won five between 2013 and 2015, while G2 has won the last four in a row. These two organizations are the most decorated in EU LCS history.

But these are very different teams than the championship winners of the past. Huni, Reignover, Febiven, Zven, and Mithy play in North America now. Trick moved to the LCK and Yellowstar coaches. Perkz and Rekkles are the only remaining members of these previous winning teams, and everyone is watching them in this final.

2018 Spring Split G2 and Fnatic have relatively similar styles. Their junglers usually wait a while to make moves, opting for safer farm in the early game. Wunder and Perkz generally gain leads from laning phase, while Rekkles and Hylissang are more controlled for Fnatic. Giving a dragon or a turret is okay for these two, as long as they are safely farming and controlling vision.

However, once Baron spawns, the game truly starts. Both of these teams jockey for vision around Baron non-stop. Caps and Hylissang are often Fnatic’s initiators, engaging onto unsuspecting targets or baiting their opponents into an unwanted skirmish. Perkz and Hjarnan stay on the backline, while Jankos and Wadid check all fog-of-war. Wunder is quick to teleport into the fight, while Bwipo tends to hesitate.

Before semifinals, this match-up would be much more Fnatic-favored. But, with Hjarnan stepping up big time against Splyce, and Bwipo subbing in for Soaz, this match-up should be extremely close. Both teams showed variations in their playstyles over their series. Fnatic showed their extreme poke composition and strong team-fighting. G2 showed they can play split-pushing with Fiora and a pick composition with Zoe and Thresh.

Expect intense drafts from these two. Braum, Camille, Swain, Zoe, and Gangplank proved extremely strong for both teams. G2 and Fnatic will most likely stick to the meta picks and opt for scaling through the first phase of the game. Once they are in-game, the victories are going to come down to five-versus-five team-fighting and macro play. It should be a historic series, as these fights are going to be explosive. G2 could tie up the trophy count five and five, or Fnatic may re-establish their dominance in Europe. Find out on Sunday, April 8.

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KnC Banner

Kobolds and Catacombs Day 1 Deck Theorycrafting

The next Hearthstone expansion, Kobolds and Catacombs, has finally been released. In the reveal season, we saw many powerful and fun cards that are coming out with the set. But, which of these cards fit into existing decks? What new decks are coming into the meta?

The Meta

Dragon Priest

KnC Dragon Priest

Dragon Priest Decklist

In past expansions, Dragon Priest has been an archetype that many people have toyed around with and played on ladder. In this expansion, we may see the rise of a Dragon-oriented Priest build similar to the Dragon Priest deck that was viable during the Mean Streets of Gadgetzan expansion last year. The iteration I have theory-crafted includes a much more value-orientated game plan by including cards such as Lyra the Sunshard, Drakonid Operative, and the new Priest weapon, Dragon Soul. The deck can also be built to take on a more minion heavy route by taking out cards like Dragon Soul, Lyra the Sunshard, and Shadow Word: Death and replacing them with Cabal Shadow Priest, which synergises with Twilight Acolyte, and Twilight Drake.

 

The inclusion of Duskbreaker in this expansion really helps Dragon Priest’s historically bad matchup versus aggressive decks, which makes the new iteration of Dragon Priest that much scarier. On ladder, this deck seems like a solid choice for climbing at a high pace. In tournaments, players may elect to bring Highlander Priest instead because of its favorable win-rates versus slower decks.

 

 Zoo Warlock

KnC Zoo Warlock

Zoolock Decklist

In the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion, we once again saw the rise of an old friend: Zoo Warlock. The early game minion package combined with Prince Keleseth proved to be the kick this deck needed to get back into the meta, and topping off with Bonemare and Bloodreaver Gul’Dan made Zoo Warlock scary in the late-game as well. This time around, Blizzard has given Zoo Warlock even better tools for taking the board early game and keeping it. The addition of Kobold Librarian helps keep your hand full, which is extremely important when having so many low mana cost minions in your deck. The main difference with this Zoo Warlock compared to the previous deck is that it cuts Prince Keleseth for the new 2-drop, Vulgar Homunculus.

 

With this iteration of the deck, I decided to add the Demon synergy package in the form of Demonfire, Bloodfury potion, and Crystalweaver. We have seen quite a lot of play with Bloodfury Potion and Crystalweaver in the past Zoo Warlock decks, but the addition of the Vulgar Homunculus makes these cards coming down on curve extremely threatening. Hooked Reaver also makes an appearance in this deck because of how solid its stats are when the Battlecry goes off, as well as its ability to synergise with the rest of the demon synergy in the deck.

 

The addition of higher-health minions and buff cards will help Zoo Warlock in the next meta mainly because of the predicted prevalence of Duskbreaker on the ranked ladder. In tournament play, this deck will likely be chosen for inclusion in aggressive lineups.

Big Druid

KnC Big Druid

Big Druid Decklist

The ‘Big’ archetype saw large amounts of play during the Knights of the Frozen Throne expansion as a whole, especially during the later half of the set’s meta. Kobolds and Catacombs has not given Big Druid many other tools, but the core of the deck is strong enough to still see play. The only change I have made to the current Big Druid list is taking out Innervate and adding Arcane Tyrants. Innervate, once a staple in most Druid decks, took a huge hit from the nerfs that occured in the middle of the last expansion. It was included in Big Druid, but it was arguably one of the weaker cards within the deck. Two different cards were shown from the new expansion that could find a home in Big Druid: Greedy Sprite and Arcane Tyrant. I chose to include Arcane Tyrant instead of the Sprite because it is very similar to Kun the Forgotten King in the way that it makes your power turns even more powerful. A common way Kun has been used during the meta was playing it as a big free body to pair with Ultimate Infestation. Arcane Tyrant acts in a similar way when paired with Nourish, Spreading Plague, and Ultimate Infestation as well. Greedy Sprite could be included instead of the Tyrant, but the ramp effect is rather slow and your opponent can choose to ignore it. Although this is the case, ramp is powerful enough that Greedy Sprite might see play over Arcane Tyrant.

 

Big Druid seems to be the new go-to Druid deck. In the past, Jade Druid has held this spot, but Big Druid is able to make bigger minions faster and still keep aggression at bay, which may see the ‘Big’ archetype overtaking the Jade mechanic this expansion. Because of this, it is a solid choice for both ranked ladder and tournament play.

 

Tempo Rogue

KnC Tempo Rogue

Tempo Rogue Decklist

Tempo Rogue swept the meta in dominant fashion when it was first discovered to be a powerhouse of a deck. With Kobolds and Catacombs, this deck gets even stronger with the inclusion of some slower yet highly valuable cards. One of these cards is the Rogue Legendary of the set, Sonya Shadowdancer. Sonya replaces the rather weak card of Shaku, the Collector as a card generation engine. Most of the minions in Tempo Rogue have such good effects or Battlecries that Shadowcaster saw a decent amount of experimentation and success during the expansion. Sonya is much cheaper than Shadowcaster, which makes its effect easier to pull off. The second card I have added to the deck is Fal’dorei Strider. Admittingly, a 4 mana 4/4 is rather weak as a tempo play. But, the potential for that minion to pull one, two, or even three additional 4/4 bodies is so powerful that it is worth the initial tempo loss. Even if only 1 additional body is pulled, paying 4 mana for 8/8 worth of stats is crazy powerful. There is also the potential to high-roll by creating a 4/4 on turn 7 to be able to play Bonemare onto after your opponent cleared your board the previous turn.

 

Fal’dorei Strider takes the place of Saronite Chain Gang, mainly because of Chain Gang’s vulnerability to an on-curve Duskbreaker. Overall, Tempo Rogue looks to still be a powerhouse deck next expansion, and I expect to see it played both on the ranked ladder and in tournaments.

 

Highlander Priest

KnC Highlander Priest

Highlander Priest Decklist

Highlander Priest has been at the top of the meta throughout Knights of the Frozen Throne, and it seems to still remain at the top during Kobolds and Catacombs. The Priest list I have selected to showcase only adds one card: Psychic Scream. In order to include the new Priest board clear, I chose to cut Mass Dispel from the deck. Mass Dispel is often times weak, so it made sense to take it out for one of the best cards of the upcoming expansion. This decision shows how good of a deck Highlander Priest already is. Another take on Highlander Priest is to go for a more minion-focused route by including a Dragon package with Duskbreaker. While this seems like a good idea, I feel the current version of the deck is much better. In the past, more value-oriented decks were tested. These decks included cards such as Elise the Trailblazer and Free from Amber. It was ultimately found that the faster and more burst-oriented Priest build was better. Therefore, I feel it is appropriate to stick with the tried-and-true burst style.

 

Once again, Highlander Priest seems to be at the top of the meta. Expect to see a large amount on ladder and as a staple deck in many tournament lineups.

 

The Non-Meta

Combo Hunter

KnC Combo Hunter

Combo Hunter Decklist

For the past few expansions, Hunter has been struggling as a class. Blizzard keeps pushing control tools and weird cards for the Hunter arsenal, which leaves the class in an awkward position in terms of deck building because of how weak each of the archetypes are. With the new Hunter legendary minion, Kathrena Winterwisp, I thought it would be really interesting to build a combo-oriented deck using Kathrena, Charged Devilsaur, and King Krush. It is often not a combo that will instantly kill your opponent, but the amount of stats that the combo provides are truly ridiculous. This deck runs the Secret package to help fend off aggro, the Candleshot and Hunter’s Mark combo to deal with large threats, and Deathstalker Rexxar to create even more value in a late game scenario.

 

While the deck might not be top-tier, it seems extremely fun to play. Personally, I will be testing this deck in tournament play in a lineup that is attempting to target control decks. On ranked ladder, Combo hunter still seems weak to aggro decks and Highlander Priest, which makes it not extremely viable in the upcoming meta.

Conclusion

Overall, Kobolds and Catacombs sees both powerful and fun cards added to the game. While it may not be the best expansion of the year in terms of player attitude and hype, it will likely lead to a diverse and healthy meta both in terms of ranked ladder and tournament play.

 

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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Is there a new G.O.A.T. in Starcraft 2?

Last week we had one of the most anticipated finals in Starcraft 2 history – and my goodness did it come through. Before we get into just how significant of a win this was for Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung, let’s recap this incredible series.

Game 1

Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin would start out the series with a quick scout on Innovation’s tank push. Pumping immortal Sentry while a Warp Prism backstabbed with Adepts, sOs gained a sizable economic lead.

Minutes later when sOs forced the base trade, Innovation’s 4-medivak drop would only be able to wipe the Protoss main, while forcefields and overcharges protected the natural until sOs’s fearsome ground army could return home.

 

Game 2

“IS THAT THE STRAT?” Shouted Artosis as four Oracles razed not only every add-on in Innovation’s main but denied stim and combat shields as well. No big deal, just sOs revolutionizing the way we see PvT forever.

After a void ray picked off Inno’s forward Tanks by the skin of its teeth, sOs decided to go for a kill move, shading into the main and igniting his four green lazers. Despite inflicting heavy worker losses, widow mine hits and marines would eventually clean it up. The situation still looked great for the 3-base Protoss, but the feisty Terran would finagle his way into another base trade – but this time with an impenetrable Liberator force at his front door – gg.

 

Game 3

In Game 3 we got to witness everyone’s favorite strat – the Cyclone rush. Oh boy, how I enjoy spectating Cyclone rushes. Over and over, sOs dove on the “pew-pew vacuum cleaners” and over and over they melted. Nexus falls – gg. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

 

Game 4

sOs said “Two can play that game,” in Game 4 – he made Adepts and murdered Terran. Not much else to say.

 

Game 5

My god Game 5 was cool.

“Hey Innovation remember when I killed you with that Adept all-in 5 minutes ago – this is that I promise.”

“It sure looks like it, sOs, I’ll be ready this time .”

 

 

sOs appeared to be going for a gold base all-in on Odyssey – something he has done many times. Whether a double-gold Oracle/50 Chargelot bust or a quick Adept bust, sOs is quite well known for these type of builds. sOs knew this and knew that Innovation knew this, so while appearing to go for a complete Adept All-in, he was actually double-expanding and building a Pheonix fleet.

When Innovation would march across the map to murder the post-cheese Adept army, he would have his mind blown open by a well-rounded and well-funded Protoss Army.

 

 

“HE JUST WENT ‘WHAT’ WITH HIS MOUTH – HE DOESN’T EVEN SPEAK ENGLISH – SOS MAKIN’ THIS KID SPEAK IN TONGUES TASTELESS”

The rest of the game would be a strategic dance of army positioning. Innovation for most of the game had an untouchable Air-Force of ranged Liberators, while sOs’s stalker force was minuscule.

Still, however, sOs managed to circumnavigate the Freedom Zones to kill bases and Blink on lone Liberators. Eventually, sOs’s commanding economy, with the help of a VERY crucial hidden base, would be able to force a base trade and kill Innovation’s Orbitals while a horde of Blink DTs turned Inno’s bio to shredded cheese.

 

Game 6

“It’s almost better to not even scout him” -Artosis

With his eye on his first ever GSL title, sOs chose Nightmare’s signature Charge/DT Blink bust. Unscouted, Innovation dropped a clutch early scan that allowed his first volley to turn the tides, wiping out the expensive Dark Templar. A few more attempts would prove increasingly wasteful, until sOs was forced to tap out.

 

 

Game 7

Oh please, anything but death by tank push – noooo not a tank push. I’m completely impartial by the way – no dog in this race.

Innovation set up a Seige Tank/Bunker line outside of sOs’s third against Colossus/Stalker. If you’ve played five games of TvP in your life you know how that ends. Innovation crushes the third. sOs tried for a hail mary recall to a newly built hidden base, got quickly overwhelmed by Vikings, Bio and SCVs at Inno’s 3rd, GG. I’m definitely not crying at all did I mention how impartial I am?

This win marks the 3rd GSL Code S title for INnoVation – tying him with Jung “Mvp” Jong Hyun… which begs the question…

 

Greatest of all Time?

 

                                 Mvp                                          INnoVation

  • GSL Code S x3
  • Blizzcon 2011
  • GSL World Championship 2011
  • WCG 2011
  • WCS Europe 2013
  • 2013 MLG Winter
  • IEM Season VII Cologne
  • 2011 MLG Anaheim
  • 2011 WC Seoul
  • Total earnings: $408,891.73
  • GSL Code S x3
  • WCS Korea 2014
  • WCS 2013
  • GSL vs the World 2017
  • IEM Gyeonggi
  • 201 Star league S1
  • IEM Gamescom
  • Total earnings: $445,354.79

 

MVP was, until very recently, the undisputed greatest player of all time. Only one young Zerg ever came close, he who shall not be named- screw that noise his name was Life and he was unbelievable. He’d surely be in the running for GOAT had he not made a terrible, unforgivable mistake two years ago. But that’s Life – badum tsss.

What does it mean to be the greatest?  I’d say there’s a bit more to it than results. Sure – you can’t even be in the conversation without winning 3 GSL Code S titles – but the GOAT of any sport didn’t just enter, dominate, and leave the sport how they found it – to be the GOAT you have to change the game forever.  MVP did that.  His finals against Squirtle changed the way we look at Best of 7s.  Not only was Game 6’s Archon Toilet arguably the most bad-ass moment in any Starcraft 2 game ever – he managed to top that by following up a Battlecruiser/Mass Planetary build with a freaking proxy 2 Rax SCV pull. MVP taught us that a best of 7 isn’t 7 separate games but a single series and ongoing mental game – and that sometimes you have to risk it all to achieve greatness.

 

So here’s the question: did INnoVation… innovate? He didn’t re-evaluate the way his race was played from the ground up like a Stephano. He didn’t revolutionize micromanagement like MarineKingPrime or Byun. He didn’t push the limits of strategical complexity like sOs… he crushed all of that with rock hard consistency.  What INnoVation brings to the table is unparalleled precision and mechanics, and an ability to do what he does every single time against any player.  Innovation accomplished what MVP did and he did it in the modern day, in a game that’s is harder than it’s ever been and one where there are more ways to suddenly die than ever before.  INnoVation knows when to cheese like MVP did, but more often than not he has no secrets – no tricks up his sleeve – just overwhelming numbers, perfect crisis management, and the cold calculating intelligence of a T-800 Terminator.

 

“1010110001” -INnoVation

For these reasons, INnoVation, in my humble opinion, is now…

The Greatest Player of All Time.

Good luck DeepMind.


Photos courtesy of AfreecaTV and The Terminator
Featured Image courtesy of HBO’s Game of Thrones

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